The number of people who have lost their jobs because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita jumped to 438,000 last week, as the economic shockwaves from the nation’s costliest natural disaster continued to be felt six weeks after Katrina careened across the Gulf Coast.
The Labor Department reported that an additional 75,000 hurricane-related claims were filed last week out of a nationwide total of 389,000 new claims for unemployment benefits.
Government analysts said that Katrina, which hit near New Orleans on Aug. 29, was still accounting for more layoffs than Rita, which came ashore near the Texas-Louisiana border on Sept. 24.
In other economic news, the Commerce Department reported Thursday that the nation’s trade deficit — the gap between what the nation sells abroad and what it imports — was the third highest in history, rising 1.8 percent in August to $59.03 billion, an increase that was driven by a record foreign oil bill.
The rise of 75,000 in hurricane-related unemployment benefit claims was up slightly from 74,000 such claims two weeks ago, the first week that claims from Rita showed up. The highest week for claims attributed to the hurricanes was the week ending Sept. 17, when claims from Katrina totaled 108,000.
Analysts said it is likely that hurricane-related claims have peaked but they said it was likely that they will remain a significant portion of total jobless claims for several more weeks, reflecting the widespread destruction which wiped out thousands of businesses along the Gulf Coast.
The government reported last Friday that the nation’s jobless rate was pushed to 5.1 percent in September from a four-year low of 4.9 percent in August. Business payrolls fell for the first time in two years, a decline that was also attributed to the hurricanes.
The 389,000 new claims for jobless benefits that were filed last week represented a drop of 2,000 from the 391,000 claims filed two weeks ago. Analysts have been encouraged that the level of jobless claims in the rest of the country has remained steady, indicating that the overall economy has been able to weather so far the shocks from the hurricane and the resulting surge in energy prices as Gulf Coast production facilities were shut down.
The weekly jobless claims report showed that the biggest increase for the week ending Oct. 1 occurred in Texas, a rise of 17,931 that was attributed to the hurricanes. The layoffs occurred in construction, public administration and manufacturing.
Louisiana had the second largest increase in layoffs, a total of 8,580, a rise that was also attributed to the hurricanes. The breakdown for individual states lags behind the national data by one week.
Analysts predicted further bad news on the trade deficit in the months ahead, reflecting the surge in energy costs that occurred after Katrina and Rita shut down refineries and oil and natural gas platforms along the Gulf Coast. Crude oil prices briefly spiked above $70 per barrel right after Katrina hit.
Underscoring that point, the Labor Department said in a separate report that the price of imported goods rose by 2.3 percent in September. The gain, the biggest in 15 years, was driven by a 7.3 percent surge in petroleum prices. The cost of foreign oil is now at record levels, pushed up by big increases over the past four months.
The August trade deficit of $59.03 billion was up from a revised imbalance of $57.96 billion in July.
U.S. exports in August rose by 1.7 percent to a record level of $108.18 billion. Imports were also at a record, rising by 1.8 percent to $167.21 billion.
The deficit with Japan narrowed slightly to $6.59 billion in August, compared to $6.63 billion in July while the deficit with Canada, America’s biggest trading partner, increased to $6.65 billion, up from $6.01 billion in July.
The deficit with the 25-nation European Union increased to $11.29 billion.